McEachern (24-2) last won the region title in 2012, then had to settle for the runner-up position with a loss to North Cobb in last year’s title game.
The first quarter went decisively in Hillgrove’s favor, as the second-seeded Lady Hawks (23-4) went 4-of-5 from beyond the 3-point line, while McEachern (24-2) went 1-8 on 3s.
Hillgrove led 22-13 after the first quarter.
“Just relax, our shots are going to start to fall,” McEachern coach Phyllis Arthur said, recalling what she told her team after the first quarter. “We came out a little too hyped up, and playing on too much emotion. We were on our home floor against our rival, but they settled down and came out on top.”
McEachern’s Taylor Gordon picked up her third foul of the game just 15 seconds in the second quarter, but the Lady Indians got contribution from the bench and fought their way back into the contest. They tied the game at 28-all with just over 5 minutes remaining until halftime, and when Hillgrove was whistled for a 10-second violation on the ensuing possession, the momentum shifted to the host Lady Indians.
After briefly trailing, Hillgrove found region player of the year Mackenzie Engram on an outlet pass, and the Georgia signee converted a layup to tie the game at 34-34 heading into halftime.
Engram was presented with her player of the year trophy after the game.
“I’m proud of Mackenzie for all the work she has put in this season and her whole life,” Hillgrove coach Susan Milam said. “She loves to play basketball, and she’s got a great future ahead of her at Georgia.”
Engram finished the game with a team-high 17 points, but the night ultimately belonged to McEachern.
The Lady Indians began the third quarter on an 8-2 run, capped off by a fast break basket by Jada Lewis. Center Caliya Robinson scored 10 points in the third quarter, and she led all scorers with 22 points.
McEachern will go into the state playoffs as Georgia’s top-ranked team, and Arthur doesn’t want her squad to rest on their laurels. Last year, the Lady Indians went out in the first round.
“We’ve got five more games that we need to play,” Arthur said. “It’s one-and-done now, and we have to really play.”
Hillgrove, which suffered its third loss to McEachern among only four losses all season, will also start the state playoffs at home, as the region’s No. 2 seed.
“I’m not sure how much gas we’ve got left in the tank after (Wednesday),” Milam said, “but we’re going to get in the gym, we’re going to prepare, and we’ll be ready come Friday.”